Apprenticeships are one of the best mechanisms available to employers to build diverse, talented and committed teams from the ground up. People who start their careers on an apprenticeship scheme are likely to stay longer and gain invaluable knowledge of different aspects of the organisation as they progress. There is also a mountain of evidence on the benefits apprenticeships offer to workplace learners – such as enhanced career earnings, continued education and richer, more fulfilled working lives.
Our research has shown that the apprenticeship system in general needs to do more to meet its promise for social mobility. We have found that since the apprenticeship levy was introduced in 2017 to support a shift to higher quality employer-led standards, it has funded a higher proportion of higher-level apprenticeships more likely to be taken up by learners from more privileged backgrounds than people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds who would benefit more. We also uncovered that disadvantage gaps exist at every stage of the apprenticeship journey, from the initial selection of candidates by employers to the quality of training.
COVID-19 has further exacerbated these dynamics. In the period of March – July 2020, overall apprenticeship starts dropped by nearly half compared to the previous year, with sectors such as retail and hospitality, where disadvantaged learners are overrepresented, seeing up to a 70% decline. With many remaining apprenticeships moving online, unequal access to IT equipment and a stable, unlimited internet connection has created additional barriers for many people.
More than ever, we need an apprenticeship system that delivers not only skills and opportunities but also social mobility. The delivery of high-quality apprenticeships requires a range of expertise, and many different people are involved in making them possible. This toolkit has been shaped and improved by the invaluable feedback from apprentices, employers, training providers, end point assessment organisations, quality assessors, charities, education providers and policy makers working across different industries. Our wider evidence base, conversations with policy makers and practitioners across government as well as our work with employers across industries helped inform the guidance laid out here.
This toolkit is designed as a roadmap for anyone working in apprenticeships who is committed to improving socioeconomic diversity and inclusion – whether you are starting out on this journey or want to further develop your strategy. Wherever you are, we hope the tips, guidance and encouragement offered here will help you make changes in your organisation that will benefit the wider society and the economy.
Please use it as a toolbox rather than a handbook. All the elements we describe here (from culture to data and progression) are part of a cycle and feed into each other. Depending on where you are in your journey, you may start with a particular chapter and jump to other sections at a later date. Not everything will apply or be possible in your context, so use what speaks to you and leave the rest.
Thank you for being on this journey with us and for your commitment to making apprenticeships work for all. We hope you will find this work deeply rewarding and see it ripple out into your organisation, sector and society as a whole.